Newsweek’s Fareed Zakaria takes a close look at Barack Obama’s approach to foreign policy, noting Obama’s emphasis on realism, in sharp contrast to John McCain and George W. Bush, who have embraced the wide-eyed idealism of the neoconservatives.
The rap on Barack Obama, at least in the realm of foreign policy, has been that he is a softheaded idealist who thinks that he can charm America’s enemies. John McCain and his campaign, conservative columnists and right-wing bloggers all paint a picture of a liberal dreamer who wishes away the world’s dangers. Even President Bush stepped into the fray earlier this year to condemn the Illinois senator’s willingness to meet with tyrants as naive. Some commentators have acted as if Obama, touring the Middle East and Europe this week on his first trip abroad since effectively wrapping up the nomination, is in for a rude awakening.
These critiques, however, are off the mark. Over the course of the campaign against Hillary Clinton and now McCain, Obama has elaborated more and more the ideas that would undergird his foreign policy as president. What emerges is a world view that is far from that of a typical liberal, much closer to that of a traditional realist. It is interesting to note that, at least in terms of the historical schools of foreign policy, Obama seems to be the cool conservative and McCain the exuberant idealist.
Just as with his other policies, Obama takes a much more nuanced approach to the world, recognizing that the world is a complex place. In contrast, McCain seems to embrace W’s simplistic “good vs. evil” approach to most situation.
Obama rarely speaks in the moralistic tones of the current Bush administration. He doesn’t divide the world into good and evil even when speaking about terrorism. He sees countries and even extremist groups as complex, motivated by power, greed and fear as much as by pure ideology. His interest in diplomacy seems motivated by the sense that one can probe, learn and possibly divide and influence countries and movements precisely because they are not monoliths. When speaking to me about Islamic extremism, for example, he repeatedly emphasized the diversity within the Islamic world, speaking of Arabs, Persians, Africans, Southeast Asians, Shiites and Sunnis, all of whom have their own interests and agendas.
Obama never uses the soaring language of Bush’s freedom agenda, preferring instead to talk about enhancing people’s economic prospects, civil society and—his key word—”dignity.” He rejects Bush’s obsession with elections and political rights, and argues that people’s aspirations are broader and more basic—including food, shelter, jobs. “Once these aspirations are met,” he told The New York Times’s James Traub, “it opens up space for the kind of democratic regimes we want.” This is a view of democratic development that is slow, organic and incremental, usually held by conservatives.
I’m not a fan of George W. Bush or Michael Gerson (one of his former aides who’s now a columnist), but Gerson rightly points out that Bush deserves credit for devoting resources for fighting AIDS, Malaria and other diseases in Africa. Bush has fought hard and worked with Democrats to dramatically increase spending in this area and the efforts are saving lives.
John McCain’s campaign is so bad it’s starting to become embarassing. He’s completely embraced Rove-style politics, but he’s so incompetent that he gets caught telling outright lies as he’s tries to destroy Obama’s reputation.
The Washington Post details how McCain’s charge that Obama wanted to bring the press along on his scheduled hospital visit in Germany is completely false. This is so lame, and it comes from a man who pledged to run an “honorable” campaign.
I always had respect for McCain, but it’s amazing how low he will go to win. That respect is gone.
He’s probably trying to bait Obama to meet him for a fight in the gutter, but I suspect Obama will not respond in kind. Obama has plenty of ammunition with McCain’s policy positions, particularly recent ones where he has embraced George Bush’s policies. He can also focus on how McCain contradicts himself almost on a daily basis. He can leave the cheap shots to supporters who will be more than happy to point out where John McCain’s actions in life don’t live up to the “honorable” standard he claims to set for himself.
In the flatlands north of Baghdad sits a prison with no prisoners. It holds something else: a chronicle of U.S. government waste, misguided planning and construction shortcuts costing $40 million and stretching back to the American overseers who replaced Saddam Hussein.
“It’s a bit of a monument in the desert right now because it’s not going to be used as a prison,” said Stuart Bowen, the special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction, whose office plans to release a report Monday detailing the litany of problems at the vacant detention center in Khan Bani Saad.
The pages also add another narrative to the wider probes into the billions lost so far on scrubbed or substandard projects in Iraq and one of the main contractors accused of failing to deliver, the Parsons construction group of Pasadena, Calif.
“This is $40 million invested in a project with very little return,” Bowen told The Associated Press in Washington. “A couple of buildings are useful. Other than that, it’s a failure.”
In the pecking order of corruption in Iraq, the dead-end prison project at Khan Bani Saad is nowhere near the biggest or most tangled.
Bowen estimated up to 20 percent “waste” — or more than $4 billion — from the $21 billion spent so far in the U.S.-bankrolled Iraq Relief and Reconstruction Fund. It’s just one piece of a recovery effort that swelled beyond $112 billion in U.S., Iraqi and international contributions.
Conservatives get furious if some Americans game the system and take advantage of social programs. Where’s the outrage for wasting up to $4 billion on useless projects in Iraq?
Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki told a German magazine he supported prospective U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama’s proposal that U.S. troops should leave Iraq within 16 months.
In an interview with Der Spiegel released on Saturday, Maliki said he wanted U.S. troops to withdraw from Iraq as soon as possible.
“U.S. presidential candidate Barack Obama talks about 16 months. That, we think, would be the right timeframe for a withdrawal, with the possibility of slight changes.”
It is the first time he has backed the withdrawal timetable put forward by Obama, who is visiting Afghanistan and us set to go to Iraq as part of a tour of Europe and the Middle East.
Obama has called for a shift away from a “single-minded” focus on Iraq and wants to pull out troops within 16 months, instead adding U.S. soldiers to Afghanistan.
Asked if he supported Obama’s ideas more than those of John McCain, Republican presidential hopeful, Maliki said he did not want to recommend who people should vote for.
“Whoever is thinking about the shorter term is closer to reality. Artificially extending the stay of U.S. troops would cause problems.”
From a purely political point of view, this helps Obama by giving legitimacy to his plans. Bush and McCain have always said that we would leave if the Iraqis asked them to stay.
It also isn’t a surprise. Malaki has been hinting at this for years, and he’s repeated it often in the last month. The Bush administration tried to negotiate long-term bases, but it’s becoming clearer that the Iraqis have different ideas.
As for what’s best for Iraq, nobody knows. Malaki is certainly trying to consolidate power, and by calling for a withdrawel be blunts some of the criticism coming from Sadr.
It’s certainly a positive development from the American point of view. We cannot maintain our presence there. It’s killing our economy, and it’s hurting the efforts in Afghanistan.
Bayh’s Iraq vote was always going to be a negative, but this takes things a step further. The important thing is that he subsequently removed himself from the group and he now says he would not have supported the Iraq War knowing what he knows now.
I don’t think this kills his chances. He brings so much to the table from an experience and electoral point of view. Also, they can emphasize that many supporters of the war have acknowledged they made a mistake, while McCain still thinks it was the right thing to do.
It’s interesting that the McCain team put out this information now. They must be terrified by the prospect of an Obama/Bayh ticket. If Bayh helps Obama win Indiana, it’s hard to see how McCain has a chance.
McCain has been saying since last year that he was against sending more US troops to Afghanistan, while Barack Obama was arguing we needed more troops there. His campaign was repeating that policy as recently as last week, but now he’s changed his position and is calling for more troops, mimicking the Obama policy. He even moved up his foreign policy speech by two days in an effort to trump Obama’s speech today.
The press is starting to pick up on this, and it will reinforce Obama’s point that Afghanistan and Al Qaeda need to be the focus of our counter-terrorism efforts.